The Poll Bludger’s WA election guide has been reupholstered with predictions, campaign updates and a Legislative Council page. The upshot of the first of these is that I’m tipping Labor to emerge one by-election defeat from oblivion, with 30 seats out of 59. Predicted Liberal gains are Kingsley, Darling Range, Bunbury, Collie-Preston, Ocean Reef, Riverton, North West and Swan Hills, with no corresponding losses (such as Albany or Geraldton). Labor’s victory would thus depend on Jandakot, beneficiary of the Mandurah rail line and Fiona Stanley Hospital, and Joondalup, where a 4.4 per cent margin looks a bridge too far against a sitting member, despite talk of the northern suburbs as tiger country. However, it should be noted that further losses in Forrestfield, Southern River and Mount Lawley are not out of the question (the latter was a target of Labor’s campaign launch promise to build a rail line to Ellenbrook, reportedly pre-empting an announcement from the Liberals); that Morley turned up a surprise poll result on the weekend; and that Kimberley can be very unpredictable. I’m tipping the Liberals to lose Moore and Blackwood-Stirling to the Nationals, if indeed the latter can be said to be a Liberal rather than a Nationals seat; Janet Woollard to retain Alfred Cove, though not with great confidence; and Bill Marmion to recover Nedlands from Liberal-turned-independent member Sue Walker. That leaves the Liberals with 23 seats, the Nationals with four and two independents.
The upper house looms as a potential bonanza for the heretofore unrepresented religious parties: my guess is two seats for Family First, 15 for Labor, 14 for Liberal, two for the Nationals and three for the Greens. I expect Liberal-turned-Family First member Anthony Fels to win a seat in Agricultural along with two Liberal, two Labor and one Nationals, although Fels’ place could be taken by Mac Forsyth of the Christian Democratic Party if One Nation falls hard enough. I’m also tipping former Liberal deputy leader Dan Sullivan to win a seat in South West, joining two Labor, two Liberal and one Greens member, although the picture here is complicated it could be right four, left two rather than three-all, and the Greens, Family First and Nationals are all in the picture. My tip in Mining and Pastoral is three Labor, two Liberal and one Nationals, though Labor’s third seat could go to the Greens and there could be a third Liberal instead of a National. In the metro area, I’m tipping three Labor, two Liberal and one Greens in East Metropolitan (it’s not impossible the latter seat could go to the CDP); three Liberal, two Labor and one Greens in North Metropolitan; and three-all in South Metropolitan.
Here are some of the electorate-level campaign updates from the election guide:
Collie-Preston (Labor 0.9%): Early in the campaign, Grahame Armstrong of the Sunday Times reported that Steve Thomas had “spoken in favour” of mineral sands miner Cable Sands while renting a house from them for $30 a week, which Thomas argued was all it was worth. Paul Murray of The West Australian claimed Labor had planted the story with Armstrong, a one-time press secretary to Geoff Gallop, whom he accused of running it even after it had been factually destroyed by a letter from the company supplied to the newspaper before publication.
Riverton (Labor 2.1%): The West Australian reported on Saturday that Labor was making a last-ditch attempt to hold the seat by promising the Leach Highway truck ban promised in 2005 would be fully operational by the end of the year. At present the government has implemented only the stage of the ban, targeting trucks longer than 19 metres. Riverton has been described during the campaign by party sources as of concern to Labor, and in play.
Bunbury (Labor 0.9%) and Albany (Liberal 2.3%): The Liberals have targeted two marginals in one hit with their promise to spend $225 million building a natural gas pipeline linking Bunbury and Albany.
And here’s me in Friday’s Crikey. An important point missing from the article below is that the Buswell website was developed by Labor while he was still leader their error was in failing to recognise that the attack looked disproportionate after he’d quit.
With so much ammunition available to both sides, it comes as no surprise to find the WA election campaign dominated by negative advertising. Liberal mailouts have depicted Alan Carpenter projecting Brian Burke’s shadow onto a wall, while the six radio ads on the party’s website feature one Whingeing Wendy after another (in an interesting inversion of the situation in the party room, two-thirds of the voices are female).
For a party caught on the hop by an early election after a term consumed by leadership turmoil, such tactics might have been an operational necessity. The positive side of the Liberal campaign has won few admirers: policy announcements have been either re-heated or half-baked, with this week’s showpiece tax cut package criticised as both too modest and lacking in detail. The one television ad promoting Colin Barnett’s leadership qualities is either a conscious attempt to project an image of bland competence, or it indicates an even greater personality deficit than first feared. The party’s newer ad is more consistent with the tenor of the campaign, inviting viewers to spend a silent 30 seconds trying to think of “three good things Alan Carpenter’s Labor has done in eight years of boom”.
However, it’s been Labor’s tactics that have emerged as an election issue as the race enters the home stretch. On Wednesday the party launched an online dirt sheet called TruthAboutTroy.com, focusing on the colourful life and times of former leader and current Shadow Treasurer Troy Buswell. This was hardly the first time a made-to-order website had been used to attack political opponents, or even enemies within (most memorably in the case of the anti-Ted Baillieu website that was traced to Victorian Liberal Party headquarters). A Liberal-authorised federal election site called unionbosses.net continues to greet visitors with tales of “union thuggery”, “dirty tricks” and “Labor’s union links”, along with audio of former ALP member Dean Mighell employing intemperate language while addressing ETU members.
Part of the problem with Labor’s intensely personal attack on Buswell was that it arrived as concern over the campaign’s increasingly negative tone was ready to crystallise. It took only a short sharp talk radio backlash for Alan Carpenter to order that the site be pulled, with state secretary and safe seat candidate Bill Johnston sent out to face the music from a hostile Russell Woolf on ABC Radio. It was a different story earlier on in the campaign, when Labor took advantage of the Liberals’ unpreparedness to saturate Olympics schedules with ads promoting the government’s past achievements and future plans. With the website episode threatening to reinforce perceptions of arrogance and cynicism, it might be time for Labor to dust off its positive message in the final week of the campaign, shop-worn though it may be.